Edward R. Murrow

His plea for USAI international help

In the first months of 2006 everyone was talking about George Clooney's film on Edward R. Murrow and the Communist panic of the l950's; so it was interesting to me to find in the back of a Harper's l965 paper edition of Kant's "Metaphysics of Morals"a letter from Murrow which I would like you to read. Then let me continue:

Forty years ago we were in a position to export information about America and our way of life and thought, which might have done much good throughout the world to establish this country as an intelligent and peace-loving state. Now things have changed. We have exported warfare as our major national product and find ourselves tangled in a web of poisonous consequences. I wanted to know more about the United States Information Agency or USAI which I hadn't been hearing of for a while and found on the web this surprising note :

     This web site is an archive of the former USIA site as it stood in September 1999, and is now maintained as part of the Electronic Research Collection of historic State Department materials by the federal depository library at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Fulbright Program
Citizen Exchanges
International Visitors
Humphrey Fellowships
Overseas Advising
English Teaching
Study of the U.S.
University Affiliations Program
Current RFPs
Cultural Property
Academic Exchanges: (Russia and NIS)
Information Bureau
Electronic and Printed Materials
Speaker and Specialist Program
Information Resource Centers 
Foreign Press Centers

All of this former activity dating from as early as l953 was slipped into a folder of historic interest at a university site in l999, indicating that we had moved into a different mode of presenting the attitude of the United States. The Harper packets of information which Murrow spoke of are good academic studies from serious sources and not the kind of governmental propaganda which we have since used to dis-inform people about what we are doing. The sad thing is that we seem to have lost our touch with the outside world, something we once considered important and formerly had our finger on. Then was the time to send books to schools and agencies worldwide, then was the time to spread our image as peace-makers in a warlike world. Had Murrow known that the USIA was to be disbanded in l999 he would have been genuinely shocked, because he stressed throughout a long and distinguished career a firm belief in the liberating force of truthful information.

When Murrow wrote his letter forty years ago about sending books out to the world, there was still hope of the world listening. At the present time there would be little reason to ship books to the Near East, since we have played the wrong hand with an iron fist, and by now nobody is prepared to hear what we have to say.

Is there hope for a new attitude for spreading real information across the world to show the better side of our country? Is there a chance that serious reporters can work with government to put together truthful documents based on fact not on the politics of the moment? The image of ourselves which we present to the world is of prime importance as the business of our Foreign Policy.

Remember that Murrow was first and foremost a reporter, and that in the past reporters were staff members of the newspapers, gathering individual reports all over the world for their next issues. In the last ten years more people have been getting their news from the TV media, which rely almost entirely on the same array on News Releases and produce much of the same information. CNN and a few others have their own reporters, but since the media programs are owned by business interests, there is a strong level of filtering of what is acceptable to the owners. It may be that reportering as done in the days of Murrow, is becoming a thing of the past, with the disappearance of the independent reporter who has a responsibility to learn and document as a part of his profession. The BBC and the Ne York Times and the Washington Past may soon be alone in a world where authentic Reportering is a thing of the past.

Can this actually be done in the present political atmosphere? Well, maybe it can, but by now it is quite unclear.

Someone should try to see what can be done about getting solid information about America out to the world, and serious information about the world back to our citizenry. We are too much involved the global world now, both financially and diplomatically, to let ourselves and our image become isolated. We are a practical people we Americans, and we have a way of seeing problems coming down the road before they get to us. Here are problems to be attended to, someone should see what can be done. In the meantime. . . . .

Good night ..... and lots of luck!

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College